If you’ve been active on the internet since the panic surrounding free agency began, no doubt you’ve seen articles similar to Aaron Gleeman’s about how many games a team made up of unsigned free agents would win.
We get it. There are still about 100 unsigned free agents left and if you could afford a good $400-500 million in payroll, you could slap together a goshdarned good team. That’s the thing, though, free agency is ultimately the laziest way to build a sustainable, winning franchise. Perhaps that’s why front offices are focusing more on their minor league systems these days. It’s not just accumulating high draft choices that makes a franchise a perennial contender, it’s often player development. Some teams, like the Braves and the Rays, really excel at creating organizational depth.
What if we put together a roster comprised of players that are not yet eligible for free agency? How would that team fair against those free agents waiting on those fattened contracts? Here’s my roster, using last year’s salaries, since we do not know what the unemployed players will make in 2019.
- SP – Blake Snell 52nd Overall 2016 ($545,000)
- SP – Trevor Bauer 3rd Overall 2011 ($6.525M)
- SP – Aaron Nola 7th Overall 2014 ($573,000)
- SP – Louis Severino IFA 2011 ($604,975)
- SP – Mike Clevinger 4th Round 2011 ($558,500)
- RP – Kirby Yates 26th Round 2005 ($1.062M)
- RP – Edwin Diaz 3rd Round 2012 ($545,000)
- RP – Josh Hader 7th Round 2011 ($565,500)
- RP – Corey Knebel 39th Overall 2013 ($3.65M)
- RP – Jose Leclerc IFA 2010 ($545,000)
- RP – Jordan Hicks 3rd Round 2015 ($545,000)
- RP – AJ Minter 2nd Round 2015 ($555,000)
- C –Willson Conteras IFA 2009 ($604,500)
- C – Gary Sanchez IFA 2009 ($620,400)
- 1B – Rhys Hoskins 5th Round 2014 ($552,500)
- 2B – Ozzie Albies IFA 2013 ($555,000)
- SS – Javier Baez 9th Overall 2011 ($675,000)
- 3B – Alex Bregman 2nd Overall 2015 ($599,000)
- OF – Ronald Acuna Jr. IFA 2014 ($545,000)
- OF – Juan Soto IFA 2015 ($545,000)
- OF – Mitch Haniger 38th Overall 2012 ($528,000)
- OF – Mallex Smith 5th Round 2012 ($539,000)
- OF – Domingo Santana IFA 2009 ($572,400)
- DH/SP – Shohei Ohtani IFA 2017 ($545,000)
- INF –Daniel Descalso 3rd Round 2007 ($2M)
That’s a total payroll of $24.615 million, likely less than Bryce Harper will sign for. Is it realistic? No, but neither is the exercise conducted above.
And don’t think that front offices around the league aren’t thinking the same thing to an extent. It is better to put money into player development than it is to open the vaults for free agents. You get players on the cheap while their performance values are increasing at a greater rate than their annual costs. With free agency, it’s the opposite. You’re paying for past performance and diminishing returns.
NOTE: For those who will ask, I didn’t select Andrew Benintendi since my first round 2015 pick was Bregman.
Cubs News & Notes
PECOTA is down on the #Cubs, but partially because they now play in the strongest division in baseball. Today @baseballpro, I wrote about what the projection system does and doesn’t like about Chicago, evaluate their decision not to make a winter splash🔓: https://t.co/MT4ZnDqXjL
— Matthew Trueblood (@MATrueblood) February 8, 2019
Weekend Baseball Read
Fall from Grace: The Truth and Tragedy of “Shoeless Joe” Jackson by Tim Hornbaker – “While many have sympathized with Jackson’s ban from baseball (even though he hit .375 during the 1919 World Series), not much is truly known about this quiet slugger. Whether he participated in the throwing of the World Series or not, he is still considered one of the game’s best, and many have fought for his induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.”
Weekend Baseball Flick
Field of Dreams – I’ll admit it, the final scene from this 1989 classic always brings a tear or two to my eyes. Okay, I bawl like a freaking baby. I lost my real father when I was barely a teenager and just about all of my memories surrounding Dad revolve around baseball since he worked with the Cubs for most of my childhood. He was always so busy we never got to play too much baseball together but I do have one great story for my Extra Innings section.
My father was near the end of his life in mid-summer 1978, a year after he had undergone brain surgery in an unsuccessful attempt to remove a large malignant tumor. We had a family reunion that day at a Cook County forest preserve in the western suburbs, and, as we did every year, we had our annual grown-ups vs. kids softball game.
Well, my father was barely able to walk without help, let alone strong enough to hold a baseball bat, but he insisted on playing. The (formerly) big left-handed slugger pointed to my cousin Debbie in right field like it was coming her way. I started my windup, and underhand-pitched the 16″ softball to him as he sneakily squared to bunt. He perfectly placed the ball to my right as I fell (in faked slow-motion) off to the left of the mound. Dad hobbled down to first base and beat my throw by an eyelash. There wasn’t a dry eye in the park.
Later we took him fishing, and when he fell asleep on the rowboat we rented, we hooked a previously-captured but still living large mouth bass to his line, woke him up, and helped him reel it in so he could catch the last fish of his life. He passed away two months later on September 29.
Saturday Walk Up Song
I Got a Name by Jim Croce. Dad’s favorite. Somebody get me a tissue. I think my Pops would be pretty damn proud that I write a daily Cubs column. Bonus: I get to spend the rest of my afternoon with my 90-year-old father-in-law, a man I love nearly as much. We will be blasting this song in my Civic all afternoon. Family is love. Please never forget that.